Q + A

the voice of nicole nathan

This month meet Nicole Nathan, partner at the architecture firm Johnson Nathan Strohe and a visionary architect fixed in the Denver skyline. We met with Nicole at Moxy Denver Cherry Creek, which happens to be one of the many project sites completed by the firm that grace these streets. Add to the list: The Maven Hotel, The Ramble Hotel, Halcyon Hotel, The Crawford Hotel — all icons in architectural form — and it’s all thanks to Nicole, her team and their design philosophy defined as pragmatic beauty.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you realize you wanted to become an architect?

I was a freshman at CU Boulder. I was undeclared, but I knew I had an interest in art and strength in math. I was reading The Fountainhead and met someone in the Environmental Design (ENVD) program at Boulder. Studio sounded like fun. I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

Is there any architect who influenced your work?

There are many architects I admire, and many who influence my work. I will say I am constantly awed by the classic modernism of Mies Van der Rohe and the inspiring work of Eero Saarinen. 

Outside of architecture, where/how do you tap into your creativity?

Making a beautiful meal, drawing a quick sketch, making things for my family.

What are the challenges architecture has to cope with today?

Some of the biggest challenges lie in creating work that lives up to the vision we have at the outset. In the battle against rising costs, we have to be more vigilant than ever that the decisions made along the way don’t compromise quality or the design intent. As architects, we have the responsibility to continually invent creative approaches to our work that allow it to be realized. 

Can you give us an insider on a project you’re excited about that is currently in the works?

We are working on a boutique hotel in Columbus, Ohio, that sits on the fringes of the Franklinton neighborhood in The Bottoms by the Scioto River. It is a unique and contextual fit which I hope will be embraced by the neighborhood.

Define your design philosophy?

My design philosophy is that a building should speak to its surroundings, be of its context and create a framework for experience. The spaces it creates within its walls, as well as the voids it creates between itself and its neighbors, are an opportunity for memory. Architecture should be beautiful for its time and be able to stand the test of time as well.

Is there a project you are most proud of?

I am most proud of The Maven in Dairy Block in downtown Denver. I think it fits well in its context and stands as a handsome corner piece to the block. The proportions and detailing give it a stately elegance that I think will endure the test of time.

Do you feel there is a theme in your architecture?

The theme is contextualism.

If you could recommend any pivotal books, podcasts, leaders, etc., what would you recommend?

Bjarke Ingels of BIG. I love the way he tells a story with his buildings.

ArchDaily is a constant source of inspiration. I love seeing the amazing work of architects and designers across the globe.

What’s your favorite design-forward city to escape to?

Mexico City. I have yet to escape there, but it is on the top of my list!

And your favorite design-inspired hangout in Denver?

I love the Clyfford Still Museum. It is so beautiful; I almost miss the amazing artwork! I am also awed by Civic Center Park and the planning and vision that made that space a reality.

Your buildings have molded the landscape of Denver. What would you want to be remembered for?

Creating spaces that inspire people to value design and contributing to the fabric of my city.

As a Colorado native, you’ve seen the landscape evolve over the years. Where do you envision it going?

I hope that Colorado can remember its roots and value the essence that makes it so appealing to many people – the open space, the mountains, the rivers, the light and sunshine, and the way you can still wrap your arms around this city. I hope it maintains that attainability.